Blog archive September 2004
on the way back from lunch i saw a notice advertising some scheme called 'adopt a life'.
so people who cannot have lives of their own can adopt a life. and every so often they get a letter from their life telling them how it's getting along.
When I got to the part about the Reformation in the entry below [while composing it in my head on the labyrinth] my thoughts diverged, and this is the second path that runs alongside.
I'm inspired by the position of the Church in the late medieval economy, as a place of art and beauty, as a vision of heaven for its parishioners [and yes I know this is an idealistic reading, but there's still something in it]. In particular at the moment, I'm interested in the way the Church framed time structures with festivals. In medieval society, art and ritual ruled time.
The loss of time structures, and therefore of space and proportion, has a lot to do with our experience of time poverty. We have as much time, but no boundaries - and therefore the most aggressive time-users, the weeds take over the garden.
To prevent this we need a framework that is not up to the individual to provide. Individual provision is presented to us as freedom, thereby concealing the real power structures that organise our time and from which we need shelter. The fact that we experience time on the labyrinth as 'wasting time' and feel we should walk faster tells us something about the time structures we have internalised, to whose tunes we dance. It takes more than individuals to resist these pressures effectively, as we all know in our struggles to make space for the spiritual.
The sacred framework of the Christian year ties our time into the cosmos through the story of cosmic salvation, as recounted through the cycles of the solar year and lunar month. All of which would have seemed obvious to medieval Catholics with their Platonic sense of the harmony of the spheres. But it's strange divine music to our ears. By ridding the calendar of all those time-wasting saint's days and reifying the work ethic, Protestantism cleared the ground for time structures based on finance and production, in which time out is minimised and regularised and 'given' back to us as reward rather than right.
I'm sure the date-shifting of Easter is a nuisance to the System. And try asking for Ascension Day off, or any of those other holy days that don't fall/have not been shifted to a weekend. If Holy Days were once again holidays, we could not escape the spiritual dependencies of our lives. As any Muslim could tell you. You cannot serve both God and money.
As I walked the labyrinth at Greenbelt, to the [recorded] music of choirs singing, I mused about how labyrinths have given me some privileged experiences. Kings College Chapel and St. Pauls Cathedral as one's living room, to relax in rather than being an ushered tourist - a strange taste of owning great buildings.
And I thought, what if the best singers sang as you walked? What if church was a gift, not from us to God but from us to others out of our knowledge of God? What if you went to church and ridiculous beauty were poured out at you, in grace, unasked-for?
It would be a reversal of polarities. For 500 years a didactic form of church held sway. At the Reformation it was decided that people needed teaching, and church has been a place of teaching and admonition ever since - a classroom of the spirit.
But how to stop gift becoming something that is consumed? Gift becomes consumerism when we feel we expect it and deserve it - when we turn up already knowing what we will get, and determined to get it. Gift is what we do not deserve or expect, what we do not purchase or pay back. If Kings College Choir sing to you as you walk a labyrinth, how do you repay? You cannot sing and have no labyrinth, no comparable resource to give.
So church becomes a place where bigger things are possible, bigger than we can afford as individuals or consumers. Where the poor get the same gift as the rich, because it's not for sale. Where it is inescapably communal and social because it cannot be taken away or enjoyed privately. Thereby fulfilling a Biblical mandate that church is a place where you cannot escape the Other and your invitation to relationship with it. There are no privileged seats on the labyrinth nor first-class path. Yet this is no levelling down. All are sung to equally.
I noticed that gift elicits gift. People who had walked the labyrinth, on whom beauty had been expended, responded with their own art and thoughts left as gift for those who came after. Gift is recycled and grows at each turn. Which suggests a principle:
Give to the worshippers first and they will give back, spontaneously, freely. We usually run church as a place where we're asked to give first, and maybe receive later. It often happens, frankly, that we're empty and in need of receiving first before we can give. But it seems to me, that when church is gift in the ways of God to us it strikes the sparks of gift and worship out of us [aren't gift and worship synonymous?]. Isn't this visible in other things? We come out of the art gallery wanting to create. We come out of the musical singing. Gift elicits gift.
another lousy week. my back seized up last saturday as an indirect result of overwork, so i was pretty immobile that weekend. had to avoid the floor cushions at grace. i made it into work on monday, then slept badly monday night and had to take tuesday off, directing things by phone [and getting a lot done on smallritual!]. had to be in on wednesday due to important meetings. obliged to work until 9 or 10pm wednesday and thursday to turn various crises around. mad friday as stunned contractor and consultants digest the impact. i flaked out around 3pm with exhaustion. somehow made it to the greenbelt afterparty in the bar on the next street. went straight to bed when i got home.
still have bad back. i have it maybe once a year, but never this long before. it breaks my sleep and hurts my old hip injuries. you never realise how much you bend over for things until you can't. why is everything down there?
Grace 'slow' service at greenbelt: 200 people in the room, 100 turned away.
Grace 'slow' service at our own church: 30 people in the room, of whom half are team or family [and half the rest are ex-team or family]
bob carlton sent me the link to 'the face of tomorrow', which composites faces from a city to suggest their eventual fully-mixed state. my immediate reaction was that the london faces are too white, given the amount of african/carribean/south asian/mediterranean blood in the capital. but i thought i'd check the census statistics from 2001. it seems that london as a whole is around 65% white [from britain or anywhere], so my hunch seemed reasonable. but i note that my part of town is one of the least 'white' in london, so my impressions are maybe skewed. but it points up the flaw in the photographer's methodology, in using the first hundred people who agree to take part - it depends on where you go looking [and a few other cultural factors]. the first hundred people in ealing would give you a brown-skinned face. the first hundred people in bromley guarantees a white face.
i try not to blog too often about my overstressed and overworked life, it gets repetitive and boring. but i'm feeling bad about all the people i don't keep in touch with, don't read, because i can't face it at 11pm after a hard day and i already have immediate stuff like emails to respond to.
there needs to be a way of blogging an absence, when one has no time or energy. some little flag that says, i love you but i'm tired.
nowadays i seldom comes across something on tv that truly makes me boggle. but 'cosmetic surgery live' is that thing.
thursday night was mostly breast implants. i now know how it's done in graphic detail, and believe me it's put me off ever having implants myself. liposuction is another no-no, after watching a man having his man-breasts sucked out. it was kind of brutal.
but tonight was the killer. genital cosmetic surgery on terrestrial tv, before midnight. both sexes. and from inside the vagina.
now clearly there are various boundaries being crossed here. the obvious one is about what can be shown on mainstream tv in normal viewing hours. i've seen things i never imagined i would see - never even imagined - under any circumstances.
but the more significant boundary, i suspect, is that cosmetic surgery is here presented as a property makeover show. the tone of the programme, with its chatty presenters and ordinary people having a nip and a tuck, normalises the idea that cosmetic procedures are like a lick of paint. and this is a frontier that has been talked about for a long time, but now seems to have arrived.
i don't want you to think i sought out this programme ;) it's just there, when i get home late at night. but the trouble with boundaries being broken is you have to watch. even if it leaves you round-eyed and unable to face meat for a while. i switched off at the labioplasty though.
ikon are nice but scary. they say "we haven't found an authentic way to do celebration yet", so they do death and darkness. last year they told us we were all judases. this year they did the death of god [pictures and account here] - if there were no resurrection, would you become a christian? and followed up with 'heresy' [pictures and account here], which they opened by declaring that they were not a christian group [because they do not feed the poor, heal the sick etc] and closed by inviting us to kiss an upside-down cross and wear one around greenbelt - for which they receive this year's NOS award for scandalising the faithful [last held by vaux]. we said it was a pity that 'heresy' was the last service of the festival - had it been earlier we could have walked around wearing upside-down crosses - greenbelt infiltrated by satanists!! in fact they have been known to accost satanists with the words "it's great to see you wearing st. peter's cross"! it's good to mess with people's heads.
most alt worship groups avoid large slabs of words if they can help it - attention span and all that. ikon's services consist about 80% of words - but what brilliant, passionate words! huge concepts tumble by, amazing the theologians yet accessible through the poetry in which they are expressed. i grope for my book to write down quotations:
"it's not that religious people feel the presence of god while non-religious people feel the absence of god. religious people feel the absence of god while non-religious people feel nothing."
"we need a doctrine of the real absence"
"all the candles are extinguished, except the candle of prophecy. this is the candle that nietzsche cannot have."
"the gospel is bad news before it is good news"
"god, rid me of god"
weird to think they do all this in a pub, with hecklers.